The Pacific Fishery Management Council recently made a historic move by voting to clean up the California swordfish drift gillnet fishery—one of the dirtiest U.S. fisheries for bycatch.
Yesterday was a big day for little fish. The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal body responsible for managing most U.S. West Coast fisheries, took another step toward implementing comprehensive measures to protect the ocean food web. In its first “ecosystem initiative,” the Council is working to prohibit new directed commercial fishing on currently unmanaged, unfished forage species in the federal Pacific Ocean waters (3 to 200 miles) offshore Washington, Oregon, and California.
We can breathe a momentary sigh of relief. This Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to maintain protections off California and Oregon for the critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles. However, in 2014 these federal fishery managers will consider another proposal for allowing driftnets into sea turtle habitat southwest of Monterey, California.
At the meeting a few days ago in Tacoma, Washington, the Council considered a full array of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets off California and Oregon and into an area currently designated to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles. But Oceana—with the help of our partners, and support of our avid Wavemakers—successfully thwarted those efforts by presenting new science on the decline of leatherback sea turtles; by revealing scientific data showing massive wasteful bycatch of large whales, dolphins, sharks, and other fish by the drift gillnet fishery; and by bringing forward the public uproar over the proposed expansion of the driftnet fishery into a currently protected area.
Mile-long drift nets hang like invisible curtains in the water column to catch swordfish, but they unselectively entangle other marine life traversing through the open ocean. To numerically paint the portrait of this wasteful fishery, for every five swordfish caught in 2011, one marine mammal was killed and six fish were tossed back dead. When it comes to whales, this fishery takes many species, but one of particular concern is the sperm whale. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and it is estimated that 16 of these amazing endangered whales were taken in the drift gillnet fishery in 2010 alone.
Shortly after John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row was published in 1945 the sardine fishery he immortalized collapsed, taking with it the ramshackle seaside villages of canners that sprouted up in Monterey to accommodate the once booming industry. Now it seems regulators are determined to return to those grim days after the Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a 2013 catch level of 66,495 metric tons of sardines for a fishery that is once again careening towards collapse.